Why did no one tell us about the TV adaptation of Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell before now? I mean, really, come on people, you could have told me that this was both at once dark and gritty and also hilariously funny in places. This show has been sardonic, witty, droll, painful, poignant, heartbreaking and so much more, all at the same time.
We have both been bleary eyed watching episodes into the wee small hours, cramming in two episodes an evening, watching the last three episodes last night alone. So that now, I’m on my second cup of coffee of the morning, and I only ever drink one cup a day. But damn, I need to stay awake long enough to write this post.
I remember back in the day, when the book was published to great fanfare, I bought it straight away, even though it was daunting task just thinking of reading it: given its immense thickness. It wasn’t your average door stop, it was an epic one. Well, at least it was for me.
Sad to say, not even a couple of chapters in, I gave up at the time, unable for whatever reason it was to read any further. Whether I found the language inaccessible, I don’t remembered. I think maybe it was the depth of description that while interesting also made for a snails-pace to read. I just think I was overwhelmed with all the nuanced detail.
So when I discovered the BBC made for TV adaption of the Susanna Clarke novel, of course, I bought it immediately. As I am sure, many have. And we haven’t been disappointed.
For those who don’t already know, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a British historical fantasy novel series set in England of the Napoleonic era. In which magic is alive though not exactly flourishing, given Mr. Norrell is now the only living practitioner of the once great art that was at its height 300 years earlier, during the era of the Raven King.
When, in the first episode The Friends of English Magic, Mr. Norrell brings a series of statues to life inside a church, in an effort to show how magic can, once again, be the respectable art of gentlemen, we know that we’re in for a wild weird joy ride. And, even before he really understand what he’s even doing, Norrell has made a pact with a dangerous being from the ‘Other’ realm in order to impress England’s PM, Sir Walter Pole, by resurrecting his dead fiancé.
I mean, come on. This is at once funny and chilling. Me and mine were both chewing our nails at Mr. Norrell’s naivety never mind rolling our eyes at Arabella being wooed by Jonathan who, as it turns out, is also gifted with insight into doing magic.
And, as the two men start to wield their magic and might and Norrell becomes paranoid about Jonathan becoming a better magician than him, we’re in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, joining Wellington on the front lines, dodging cannon fire and zombies raised from the dead, and literally casting magic to the four winds with seemingly gay abandon.
Deliciously dark and twisted in places, with a fantastic cast bringing these characters to life, excellent direction. Snappy dialogue and explosive action, along with heartfelt poignant moments for poor Lady Peel and her situation. And there isn’t one foot out of place in this cracking series that couldn’t be fixed other than with a second series to follow up.
Whether you are into or like historical fantasy with dark overtones, or not, this series thoroughly delivered at every level as a period drama with plenty of angst, that also just happened to feature yes, good old fashion English magic, and why not indeed!